As travelers cross the Kansas-Oklahoma border while heading north on Highway 81, they may happen upon a seemingly unsettling sight near Caldwell, Kansas. In the distance, a caravan of riders is traveling alongside you, driving cattle. These silhouetted figures are known as the “Ghost Riders of the Chisholm Trail.”
The Abilene stockyards opened in 1866, providing a new, safer, and shorter route for Texas ranchers to deliver their goods to the north and east. They began to use an old hunting and trading route through indigenous territory, that had been scouted by Jesse Chisholm, a Cherokee merchant, and his friend Black Beaver, a Lenape guide and trader. The trail, which became known as the Chisholm Trail, runs through what is now Highway 81. As the railroad grew, the trail changed shape, eventually ending at Caldwell, before being overtaken by newer, better routes.
In 1995, a group of volunteers worked together to memorialize this era in silhouetted steel. The trail is best viewed at dawn, as the sun breaks over the trail, or at dusk, as the trail figures seemingly come to life as they face the waning light.